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Getting serious about social media implementing an effective strategy


Social media presents an efficient and cost-effective way to accomplish several business goals, from brand awareness to increased sales. However, it is important to leverage appropriate technology and develop a strategy with documented goals to deliver value to the organization. With the rapidly growing number of outlets, establishing a capable social media presence is more difficult than ever, and many businesses do not know where to start.

Most companies have some experience in social media, often from maintaining a company Facebook, YouTube or Twitter account. Maintaining these platforms without implementing a strategy with the organization’s goals in mind is just scratching the surface of the potential of the medium, and can even be counterproductive. If social media is not approached with a strategy and purpose, you can damage your brand image and waste valuable time and resources by not knowing whether your efforts are ultimately successful.

Social media will affect all businesses in some way, and businesses must be proactive in developing a plan to take advantage of its ample capabilities. Not all strategies will work for all companies, so available options must be carefully evaluated to determine what is right for your organization’s unique needs. The following six steps have been developed to help organizations craft a complete social media strategy, regardless of your overall experience with the medium:

  1. Take inventory
  2. Develop a social media steering committee
  3. Develop a strategic plan
  4. Implement the plan
  5. Monitor, measure, adjust
  6. Learn

Take inventory
The initial step in developing a social media strategy is to examine every area of your organization, both inside and outside the marketing department. Take inventory of all of the social media platforms you are currently utilizing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How is my organization currently using social media? What applications are being utilized?
  • Do I have a social media strategy?
    • If so, who is accountable for it?
    • Is a steering committee in place to plan and monitor the initiative?
    • Does the plan take the entire company into consideration, or only select departments?
  • What digital assets are available for social media activities?
  • What people are currently engaged in social media activities?
    • How much time is dedicated per week?
    • How frequently are activities undertaken?
    • How many employees are involved in social media?
    • Is social media a full-time or part-time activity?
  • What is my current social media spending, and how are results being measured?
    • How much am I spending on social media?
    • How much time is being dedicated to social media?
    • What is the value of social media per dollar of marketing budget?

Develop a social media steering committee
The next step is to create an organization-wide committee dedicated solely to social media. The purpose of this group is to develop and implement an integrated social media strategy that serves the entire company. The committee should be comprised of marketing, IT, executive level employees, and representatives from other critical departments.

This panel will decide the company’s social media goals and objectives, including how it will be used, who is the target audience and what the results should be. It is important to build this team of people that think outside the box and do not have a vested interest in reinforcing existing practices.

Develop a strategic plan
A social media initiative should start with a good plan; without one, a company often fails to recognize the full potential of the technology. The plan should start by defining the company in a broad, competitive context. What is important to your customers? What are similar companies doing in social media? How does your company’s social media profile compare to others in the industry? Gathering competitive intelligence and analyzing how other organizations employ the technology provides a baseline and helps to compare your company to the competition.

Using this information, analyze which social media channels are most beneficial for your company, and prioritize them according to relative benefits. All social media channels should be analyzed by how they could be used, whether they would realistically be used by your customers, their overall effectiveness and their cost in resources and dollars (if applicable). This research helps to build a hierarchy of social media channels, ranked by their potential value to your company.

Once this hierarchy has been developed, identify those that will own the process and will be accountable for ensuring the overall strategy is followed. Marketing staff typically serves in these roles, although an external marketing consultant may also be utilized. The final step is resource planning and goal setting. Determine what resources will be needed to implement the plan, considering digital and people assets, as well as cost and budget estimates. An understanding of the tangible benefits that are desired is critical for defining success.

Implement the plan
If a strong strategy has been developed, implementation should be smooth and predictable, with the owner of the plan coordinating and managing the process. However, regardless of how well-developed the plan may be, it cannot be assumed that the whole strategy will magically come together. The success of your plan is dependent on execution, so choosing the right person to lead the project is as important as the plan itself. This person should be able to drive change, multitask, possess interpersonal skills and have a strong understanding of technology and marketing.

Monitor, measure, adjust
Once your plan has been implemented, you must develop a process to continually monitor and measure each component of your social media strategy. Scrutinize each facet of the system (both human and technological) to ensure that they are performing as well as planned, making adjustments as necessary. In some cases, you may need to change your plan, if elements are found to be unnecessary, unrealistic or excessive.

An ongoing monitoring, measuring and adjusting process should be carried out by a few select individuals. It is important to fully document each step of the monitoring and adjustment process to refer back to later and avoid repeating the same actions twice. This process should allow companies to catch errors early and immediately, correct deficiencies and eliminate wasteful processes. The earlier issues are identified and corrected, the more effort and money is ultimately saved.

Finally, commit yourself or assigned individuals, to learning about new technologies and essentially becoming a student of social media. New developments must be monitored, as platforms emerge and evolve that may present beneficial opportunities for the organization. Continually evaluate the competitive landscape and how your own initiatives compare to your plan and whether you are meeting goals and expectations.

The amount of social media options is overwhelming and growing by the day. It has become imperative for companies to implement a social media strategy, but a comprehensive plan and clear goals must be established. Patience with social media is important, as each effort is not likely to equal a sale today, but may lead to connections and brand awareness. If your company is implementing social media applications without a plan behind it, you should consider taking a step back to think about strategy and whether these six steps have been fully satisfied.